There’s much more to the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Macau than high rolling and mega-luxury hotels. The peninsula has a unique story, other than being the only Chinese territory where one can legally gamble in a casino: it was formerly a Portuguese colony for roughly five centuries just until 1999. As you drive away from the glitz of Cotai Strip, Macau’s history lives on in the form of pastel-colored buildings, beautiful cobblestone streets and baroque churchesmaking for sometimes a bizarre collision of two worlds, Mediterranean and Chinese. And of course, all of the street signs are in both Mandarin and Portuguese.
Because Macau is so small, finding gems off the beaten track here feels even more special. In between Macau must-visits such as the picturesque Mandarin’s House (with circular moon gates and a secret garden perfect for meditation) and nabbing an egg tart at the famed Margaret’s Caf e Nata, below are more recently opened small shops that provide a thoughtful counterpoint to the hotels with 3000 rooms.
This six-month-old vintage store is one-of-a-kind in Macau, where most locals shop for clothing in Hong Kong or online through Taobao (an eBay-meets-Amazon shopping destination owned by Alibaba). Frustrated by the lack of choices, Elva and Terrence Chan quit their jobs working for luxury companies Hyatt and Gucci to set up Vintage Market. They travel to Thailand, Japan and the US to bring back secondhand goods to delight locals (and touristswe left with a Japanese kimono and embroidered jacket). A bonus: there’s someone on hand to alter or tailor any ill-fitting purchases; the sweet lady also churns out up-cycled pieces that Elva and Terrence design.
A large rainbow-colored zebra statue guards the entrance to the fantasyland that is BUDDY. It’s a feel-good candy and toy shop stocked with crazy Japanese imports like “bubble drink powder” in a plastic toilet and Hello Kitty jellybeans, as well as crowd-pleasers like cookies and shortbread. Hung from the Instagram-worthy ceiling are glass balloons created by a local artist; they can also be purchased, but an order needs to be placed in advance so they can be made. BUDDY is tucked in an alleyway with two other newly opened shops that offer something unique, from handmade ceramics by Portuguese designer Mrio Reis and Portuguese body products at KUSO to fun home decor pieces from South African craftsmen at Paper Scissors Rock.
Located on the same block as Vintage Market in the increasingly artsy St Lazarus District, Re-Elements is the place to find delightful surprises for yourself and your home, from eerie candles in the shape of horse and rabbit heads to crafted leather shoes and leather wine carriers. The rest of the shop’s space serves as a small leather workshop, where the easygoing store owner hosts sessions in making wallets, passport- and card-holders and the like.
Kafka Sweets & Gourmandises
Don’t be fooled by the nameKafka is a hybrid caf, patisserie and French restaurant (pasta and risotto are on the menu) all in one, giving you plenty of reasons to stay the whole day. Located in Taipa, the space is partially covered in hundreds of blank notebooks, giving the walls a papery texture of movement. We were delighted to come across the beautifully illustrated packaging for their drip coffee “Almost Blue,” scrawled with lyrics from the Elvis Costello song. The blend is roasted in Macau and reads: “perfect with milk and Chet Baker.”
Nestled in a enclosed patio and shaded by tall camphor trees, Mercearia Portuguesa is a one stop shop selling the best of what Portugal’s independent producers have to offer: jewelry, woven mats, wine, chocolate, ceramic bowls and even drugstore finds like Claus Porto soaps to the much-loved Couto toothpaste. The foodstuff, however, is what will keep you browsing for hours in the tiny shop. Jams from Algarve, canned octopus and spiced sardines, sustainably grown herbs by Hands on Earth, fennel liquor, highest quality olive oil and more all make you feel that Portugal, not China, is just out the door.
Images by Nara Shin